A Return to Southern Europe: Provence
After a great intro to Spain via Girona, our travel plans had us crossing the border into France for a return to Provence a mere 6 months after our first visit. This time our stay had us on the Western side of the region, including the Alpilles mountain range. So into our large van - certainly by European standards - we headed away from the cobbled city of Girona en route to Nimes, France.
Because of the weather in Girona, we didn't get the chance to hit the Costa Brava via bike as planned so our first stop en route to France was the Camino de Ronda trail along the coast. Our intention was to hike a stretch of the trail and take in the views - and maybe a drink or three - but the moment we stepped out of our van and the blustery winds hit our faces we decided it was best to take a few quick photos and head to our chosen lunch destination.
On the road a bit earlier than expected, we reached the real pinnacle of our day: lunch in Sete, France along the Etang du Thau. The destination was one of the many waterside bistros offering a haven for seafood lovers. Our choice was Le Grand Bleu and it did not disappoint. Under the (much warmer) French sun we dined on a tower of raw shellfish followed by a myriad of fish dishes and of course some rose to complete the perfect lunch.
Our AirBNB for our few days in France was a bit of a show stopper - owned and designed by a pair of French architects, it was definitely a jaw dropper. While it may have been on the pricey side, midway through our trip and with a bit of fatigue from the drive North from Girona it was worth the splurge for some modern and comfy digs. And the location right up and close to both Les Halles and the Colosseum made for a perfect jumping off point for the city of Nimes and our adventures in Provence.
Cycling et al!
For our adventures while in France, we - obviously - fit in a bike ride and also paid a visit to the pont du gard Roman aqueduct ruins. Our bike ride took us from St Remy de Provence and through the Alpilles mountains. We once again round up a fleet of half e-bikes, half road bikes, rented from an unassuming but well equipped shop on the outskirts of town. Our route perhaps didn’t beat the Gorges ride from the year prior but it was certainly worthy of several hours together on two wheels followed by a picnic lunch in the heart of town and a wine stop to stock up on rose on the way home.
Our last stop in town was to the Pont du Gard. Though our original plans to kayak down the Gardon river and under the aqueduct were thwarted - the weather found numerous ways to throw us for a loop - we decided to still visit the ruins via foot. And we were glad we did as we could slowly marvel at its grandeur. This is truly a site to visit in person as the pictures don't quite do justice, though I made sure to snap all the corny angles nonetheless. All in, we made sure to fill our bellies on all the French food we could squeeze into 72 hours. It was just enough time in town to thoroughly mess with our language skills as we switched between Spanish, French and Catalan!
Our Costa Brava -- Southern Provence Top 10
- Cycling the Alpilles mountains. A healthy mix of climbs and quaint countryside made for a really pleasant ride, all very doable with the fam on ebikes. The launching point of St Remy de Provence provided a perfect spot for a post ride lunch, resting in the town square, ice cream and some shopping in town. We even trudged up through the tiny town of Eygalieres via a few rocky roads up to the old church of Saint Laurent and a great viewpoint of the valley below.
- Dining on the Etang du Thau in Sete. The quaint town along the water, home to one of the largest oyster beds in the region, packs in a lineup of seafood establishments that would not disappoint a seafood lover. We chose Le Grand Bleu based on reviews and the tower of shellfish that started our meal left only positive memories in our minds. Great for a break in the drive from Northern Spain over to Provence.
- Les Halles. Food is always of utmost importance on our trips and this massive hall of market stalls selling everything from bread and pastries to fresh vegetables and meat of every cut provided a perfect venue for collecting picnic lunch supplies for our Alpilles ride.
- Nimes Coliseum. Arenes de Nimes. Underrated compared to its more well known Roman ruins. During our visit the Roman games were taking up residence inside the coliseum so we weren’t able to marvel at the interior but impressive for an exterior visit in daylight and night nonetheless.
- Rose Rose Rose. Who can be mad in the land of rose under the warm sunshine. And at dirt cheap prices we were certainly not complaining. An end of ride stop at a local vineyard yielded crisp bottles of rose for about $10 a bottle to keep us well stocked for the rest of our trip.
- Pont du Gard. This impressive Roman aqueduct gives a sample of the significant practical feats taken on by the ancient kingdom. It was much more impressive in person than originally imagined and though our plans to kayak down the Gardon river to see it up close were foiled due to weather - getting splashed with water in 50 degrees and cloudy seemed less than ideal - we were still very pleased to have visited this engineering marvel from ground level. Checking out a one way tour with Canoe Collias to leisurely float down the river and under the pont du gard would certainly be worth the effort in warmer months.
- Camino de Ronda. While we didn’t get to enjoy the trail very much due to blustering winds and frigid temps along the coast during our visit, I would certainly add it to the list of places to revisit. It’s possible to hike for several days along the trail but making a day or half day hike while visiting towns such as Roses and Cadaques including Dali’s old stomping grounds are certainly worth the trip to the Costa Brava.
- Velo Passion Bike Shop. This small and seemingly ramshackle shop with an unassuming website and old parts laying around intermixed with high end bikes made for the perfect rental for some reasonable road bikes and some very nice ebikes to tackle the rolling terrain of the Alpilles mountains.
- Airbnb. Once again our airbnb pick takes center stage. This one was certainly on the luxury side and pushed the limits of travel budget but it made for a nice mid trip oasis for relaxing in between adventures and sandwiched between stays in the older buildings of Girona and Barcelona where our digs were significantly more low end.
- Parking Victories. Driving a large Volkswagen van around the narrow streets of Nimes during a busy weekend of Roman Games made the parking battle like a chess match. Luckily our location near Les Jardins de la Fountaine - a quite lovely park on the edge of town - netted a reasonable amount of parking spots if we got the timing right and practiced our best maneuvers through narrow spaces.